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Harold Rainsford Stark
Admiral Stark, USN
Nickname "Betty"
Born (1880-11-12)November 12, 1880
Died August 20, 1972(1972-08-20) (aged 91)
Place of birth Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania
Place of death Washington, D.C.
Place of burial Arlington National Cemetery
Allegiance United States
Service/branch United States Navy
Years of service 1899-1946
Rank US-O10 insignia.svg Admiral
Commands held USS West Virginia
Cruiser Division Three
Cruisers of Battle Fleet
Chief of Naval Operations
U.S. Naval Forces, Europe
U.S. Twelfth Fleet
Battles/wars World War I
World War II
Awards Army Distinguished Service Medal
Navy Distinguished Service Medal (3)

Harold Rainsford Stark (12 November 1880 – 20 August 1972) served as an officer in the United States Navy during World War I and World War II. Stark was the US Navy's 8th Chief of Naval Operations, from August 1, 1939, to 26 March 1942.

Early life and career

Stark enrolled in the United States Naval Academy in 1899 and graduated with the class of 1903. As a plebe there he received the nickname "Betty". From 1907 to 1909, Stark served on the battleship USS Minnesota before and during the U.S. Atlantic Fleet's cruise around the world.

World War I

Subsequently, Stark had extensive duty in torpedo boats and destroyers, including command of the Asiatic Fleet's torpedo flotilla in 1917, when these old and small destroyers steamed from the Philippines to the Mediterranean to join in World War I operations. Stark served on the staff of Commander, US Naval Forces operating in Europe from November 1917 to January 1919.

Interwar Years

Following the war, Stark was Executive Officer of the battleships North Dakota and West Virginia, attended the Naval War College, commanded the ammunition ship Nitro and served in naval ordnance positions.

During the later 1920s and into the mid-1930s, with the rank of Captain, he was successively Chief of Staff to the Commander, Destroyer Squadrons Battle Fleet, Aide to the Secretary of the Navy, and Commanding Officer of USS West Virginia. From 1934 to 1937, Rear Admiral Stark was Chief of the Bureau of Ordnance. He then from July 1938 served at sea as Commander Cruiser Division Three and Commander of Cruisers in the Battle Fleet, with the rank of Vice Admiral.

Stark (rear, 2nd from right) aboard the HMS Prince of Wales at the conference that led to the Atlantic Charter

CNO and the beginning of World War II

In August 1939, Stark became Chief of Naval Operations with the rank of Admiral. In that position, he oversaw the expansion of the Navy during 1940 and 1941, and its involvement in the Neutrality Patrols against German submarines in the Atlantic during the latter part of 1941.[1] It was at this time that he authored the Plan Dog memo, which laid the basis for America's Europe first policy. He also orchestrated the Navy's change to adopting unrestricted submarine warfare in case of war with Japan;[2] Stark expressly ordered it at 17.52 Washington time on 7 December 1941,[3] not quite four hours after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. It appears the decision was taken without the knowledge or prior consent of the government.[4] It violated the London Naval Treaty, to which the U.S. was signatory.[5]

His most controversial service involved the growing menace of Japanese forces in the period before America was bombed into the war by the attack on Pearl Harbor. The controversy centers on whether he and his Director of War Plans, Admiral Richmond K. Turner provided sufficient information to Admiral Husband E. Kimmel, Commander of the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, about Japanese moves in the fall of 1941 to enable Kimmel to anticipate an attack and to take steps to counter it. Captain (later Rear Admiral) Edwin T. Layton was Kimmel's chief intelligence officer (later also Adm. Chester W. Nimitz's intelligence officer) at the time of the attack. In his book, And I Was There: Pearl Harbor and Midway—Breaking the Secrets (1985), Layton maintained Stark offered meaningless advice throughout this period, withheld vital information at the insistence of his Director of War Plans, Admiral Turner, showed timidity in dealing with the Japanese, and utterly failed to provide anything of use to Kimmel.[6] John Costello (Layton's co-author), in Days of Infamy (Pocket, 1994), points out MacArthur had complete access to both PURPLE and JN-25, plus over eight hours warning, and was still caught by surprise. Moreover, as SCAP official historian Gordon Prange and his colleagues note in December 7, 1941 (McGraw-Hill, 1988), defense of the fleet was General Short's responsibility, not Stark's. Turner's insistence on having intelligence go through War Plans led Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) to a wrong belief ONI was only to collect intelligence; Turner did not correct this view, nor aid Stark in understanding the problem.[7] Among others,[8] Morison and Layton agree Turner was most responsible for the debacle, as does Ned Beach in Scapegoats (Annapolis, 1995).

In addition, there was considerable confusion over where Japan might strike, including against the Soviet Union or British colonies in Asia.[9]

After Pearl Harbor

As CNO, Stark oversaw combat operations against Japan and the European Axis Powers that officially began in December 1941.

In March 1942, Stark was relieved as CNO by Admiral Ernest King. He went to England the next month to become Commander of U.S. Naval Forces in Europe.

From his London headquarters, Admiral Stark directed the naval part of the great buildup in England and U.S. naval operations and training activities on the European side of the Atlantic. He received the additional title of Commander of the Twelfth Fleet in October 1943, and he supervised USN participation in the landings at Normandy, France in June 1944. Admiral Stark built and maintained close relations with British civilian and naval leaders, who "generally adored him",[10] and also with the leaders of other Allied powers. Stark was particularly important in dealing with Charles de Gaulle; it was thanks to Stark the U.S.-British-Free French relationship continued to work.[11] He earned high praise from King for his work.[12]

After the Normandy landings, Stark faced a Court of Inquiry over his actions leading up to Pearl Harbor.[13] The Court concluded Stark had not conveyed the danger, nor provided enough information, to Kimmel, but had not been derelict.[14] King's endorsement of the report was scalding,[15] leading to Stark being relieved.[16] In 1948, King reconsidered and requested the endorsement be expunged: "It was the only time that King ever admitted he had been wrong."[17]

From August 1945 until he left active duty in April 1946, Stark served in Washington, D.C., and made his home there after retirement. He died in 1972.[18] The controversy surrounding him has only become fiercer since.[19]


He maintained a family summer residence on Lake Carey in Tunkhannock, Pennsylvania north of his native Wilkes-Barre for many years and flew in by naval seaplane for weekends during his career. The cottage still stands on the westerly shore of the lake.


Stark was awarded three Navy Distinguished Service Medals and one Army Distinguished Service Medal.

The frigate USS Stark (FFG-31) was named in honor of Admiral Stark.

A research & development laboratory & office building at the Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division was named in honor of Admiral Stark.


This article incorporates text from the public domain Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships.
  1. In general, see B. Mitchell Simpson, III, Admiral Harold R. Stark: Architect of Victory, 1939-1945. (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1989)
  2. Holwitt, Joel I. "Execute Against Japan", Ph.D. dissertation, Ohio State University, 2005, pp.212-217 passim.
  3. Holwitt, p.220.
  4. Holwitt, Joel I. "Execute Against Japan", Ph.D. dissertation, Ohio State University, 2005, pp.212-217 & 232-249 passim.
  5. Holwitt, passim.
  6. Layton, passim.
  7. Holwitt, p.230 & fn 20; Dyer, The Amphibians Came to Conquer, pp.176-196.
  8. Holwitt, p.230-231fn.
  9. (retrieved 22:43, 6 March 2011 (UTC).
  10. Holwitt, p.225.
  11. Holwitt, p.225.
  12. Holwitt, p.225.
  13. Holwitt, p.225.
  14. Holwitt, p.226.
  15. Holwitt, p.226.
  16. Holwitt, p.226.
  17. Holwitt, p.225, quoting King biographer Thomas Buell's Master of Sea Power, p.353.
  18. Holwitt, p.227.
  19. Holwitt, p.227.

External links

Military offices
Preceded by
William D. Leahy
United States Chief of Naval Operations
Succeeded by
Ernest J. King

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